But oh, to be free...
I remember the first time I saw “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.” It blew my mind. Who knew that Genie could be so vulgar? So adult, so animated and free. I was 15, and a few months prior I had tried to kill myself.
It was a decision driven mostly by teenage spite, as all the best ones are. I was no different from any 15 year old girl - misunderstood and overly dramatic with angst spilling out my eyeballs. “I’ll show them,” I thought as I counted out 33 pills of ibuprofen? Tylenol? I don’t even remember. Then I put on my headphones, turned on my portable CD player playing The Offspring? No Doubt? You’d think the last music I thought I’d ever listen to might have stuck in my memory, but thankfully, a lot has happened between then and now.
From what I understand, my mom found me in the bathroom, a scene I can’t bring myself to imagine, nor can I ever completely forgive myself for doing that to her. I have flashes of memory from the ER, but mostly I remember waking up in my hospital bed, where I stayed for a week. We told my school I had the flu.
It would be nice if I could say that after that I had a new lease on life, realized all the blessings I hadn’t seen before, and rose from the ashes. But for years after that I felt a sadness that I didn’t understand and a loneliness and despondency that almost never completely goes away. I told myself I would never attempt suicide again, and for a long time my reasoning was simply this: I didn’t believe in myself enough to succeed, and I couldn’t bear to put myself or my family through another failed attempt.
Two years later, I totaled my [parents’] car while drag racing a friend, because impulsive self-destructive decisions were only beginning to play a large role in my life. Going about 80 in a 30 mph zone, I spun out and hit a light pole and two trees. If you saw it, you’d think I died. But I walked away with scratches and bruises, and a bit of hysteria over the whereabouts of my bowling bag that had been in the trunk because, you know, priorities. (If you’re wondering, that near-death experience was scored by Britney Spears’ In the Zone album.)
The combination of these two events combined with enough positive influence from a select few exceptional role models at Catholic school inspired my new philosophy: For reasons I could not yet understand, God kept me alive twice when He didn’t need to. I should have been dead, but I wasn’t and that couldn’t be for nothing.
I continued to battle with depression on and off through most of college. One year I spent an entire Spring Break in bed, watching House on DVD, while most of my peers were in Mexico being normal. I still thought about suicide, but it was always with a lens of romanticism, with a “wouldn’t that be nice?” sentiment. Probably because I believed a cosmic energy wouldn’t allow me to take my own life, I often engaged in self-destructive behavior that arguably has not stopped. It was masochistic and ill-advised.
Eventually, I moved out to Colorado while taking a leave from college and after one major meltdown with my then-boyfriend where I took just enough pills to scare him and myself, I finally began to pull myself out of The Hole. I call Colorado my home, not because I grew up there, but because that is the first place I ever really felt free from the shackles of depression. It's also where I did stand-up for the first time, where I made most of my best friends, fell in love for the first time, where I've spent so many holidays and where I first got into Phish. So many milestones!
My only goal used to be happiness. I now know that is not only idealistic and simple, but also impossible. None of us will ever just be happy and to strive for that is to sell ourselves short because we are way more complex and interesting than that. There are plenty of things that will make you feel sad but it is important to remember that you’re entitled to be sad sometimes. It is equally important to remember that it won’t last forever, so embrace it while you’re in it. Allow yourself to give in to that sadness, so that when your emotions shift you can fully experience whichever one comes next. Your emotions are legitimate, but they are also fleeting. All of them - sadness, anger, happiness, love - they are all just moments in time, and they inform each other. Emotions can be gossipy that way.
Robin Williams gave so much of himself to so many people. His performances on film, stage, and countless stories of personal contact have saved more people than any of us could count. He gave so much love to all of us, he didn’t have enough left over for himself. His loss is heartbreaking on a guttural level, and we can take solace in the fact that if nothing else, he’s no longer suffering any pain. Oh captain, my captain, rest in peace.
Please if you are ever feeling hopeless, remember that you’re wrong. Some cliches exist because they’re true: some the greatest struggles you will ever face are the experiences that will make you the best version of yourself. You won’t be able to see that until later, so you have to let yourself make it to later.
If you ever think you can’t be trusted with yourself call 911, or the Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-TALK). Call anyone. Call me if you need to (or email me if you don’t have my number).